Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Burned Hot and Bright: Walyer

In the painting by Julie Dowling, the Tasmanian warrior woman Walyer holds a colonialist's flintlock as she gestures towards her Country. She has another fowling piece tucked into her belt. Perhaps her voluminous skirt once belonged to a white woman and maybe her cape is of kangaroo skin or woven stuff, but her breasts are most definitely bare. She wears necklaces of marineer shells - ropes of tiny, pointed shells, shiny blue with sand-worn nacre. Pallawah women collected them every year on the northern beaches and strung them into body art with the stringy sinew of wallaby tail.

Walyer is a problematic sort of woman to have in the history books. 
Jorgen Jorgenson wrote that because Van Diemonian journals and letters had been recorded with 'such fidelity', nobody, absolutely nobody, given the evidence, would ever be given enough creative leash to compare Walyer to the Boadicea, even if she "... as a heroine, as the defender of her native woods against the aggressions of the British ... placed her on a level with the British Queen who, it is said, resisted the Roman arms for nine years. Speculation as now regards Van Diemen’s Land is quite out of the question – and for ever so."*
Jorgenson must have anticipated romantic academics popping up in the future. I doubt he anticipated the internet. He never mentioned the Red Queen's name in that paragraph but really, I think he was being a bit of a tease ... 

One of Walyer's names was Tareenorerer, which is very close to Tyreelore or 'Island Wife'. She was stolen by sealers when she was a teenager around 1817 and taken to the islands of Bass Strait. In the Australian Dictionary of Biography, it is said that she was initially abducted by Aboriginals and sold to the sealers.* 
Walyer learnt English quickly. But more crucially for this particular girl's career, she learnt from the sealers all about black powder - how to handle guns, how to pour shot and that vulnerable time in battle between firing and reloading. 

In 1828, Walyer returned to her country in the north of Tasmania. With some of her brothers and sisters, she mounted attacks against the white men luta tawin, whom she likened to black snakes. Apparently she would stand on a hilltop, organising the warriors and goading the potential victims to come and get speared! Walyer began getting into strife with rival clans as well. 
"When we came to Cape Grim we took two male natives and one female. We asked where were all the rest of the tribe. They told us that a woman named Walloa, a female chief, came to Cape Grim with three tribes and surrounded the tribe when sitting at their fires, killed them all with the exception of the three we spoke to. Walloa when running away said she would return and kill them all. She was however not seen afterwards until we put in at Port Sorell. We had previously taken the three poor creatures to Swan Island. Walloa, strange to say, was actually the chief of the ferocious Sorell tribe who killed Captain Thomas and Mr Parker. The same woman and her mob chased Mr Robinson and the Doctor in September last, with five of the tame natives we had with us, for nearly five miles."*

Some sealers collected Walyer up again. They took her to Hunter and Bird Island where she worked muttonbirding and sealing. She also lived with Norfolk Island Jack in the Furneaux Group for a while.

When Walyer returned from the islands to Van Diemen's Land the next time she was a wanted criminal; murders and misdeeds from her last rampage had caught up with her. Resistance was useless in the face of British law and she'd upset a lot of Pallawah people too. She was captured through the advice of some Pallawah women. They recognised her dog Whisky - he answered their call. 

George Augustus Robinson of 'Friendly Mission' work, was elated at her capture.  He had been trying to 'conciliate' the Pallawah for some time. He blamed Walyer for inciting them to violence and other unsavoury methods of survival.  He believed that all the 'mischief perpetuated upon the different settlements' could be traced to Walyer and her warriors. 

Walyer was indeed a chaotic, angry entity; an uncomfortably visceral example of the fraying traditions of culture and sex in Pallawah society, and a rather frightening wild card for the colonisers. She killed people black and white. She went back to her original sealer abductors for refuge when things got too hot for her in VDL. She may have been an Antipodean Boadicea but there was no final scene of a woad-smeared warrior woman screaming naked down a grassy battlefield. 
 Walyer was simply moved to Gun Carriage Island with Robinson's other 'charges'. She died on the 5th of June, 1831, of the 'flu.

*Julie Dowling, Walyer, 2006. http://nga.gov.au/Exhibition/NIAT07/Detail.cfm?IRN=144778

*N.J.B. Plomley, Ed., Jorgen Jorgenson and the Aborigines of Van Diemen’s Land, Blubber Head Press, Hobart, 1991, pp. 73-80.

*Australian Dictionary of Biography

See also David Lowe, Forgotten Rebels, Black Australians Who Fought Back, 1994.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Grievous and the Blunty Boys #3

Blunty stopped at the servo and bought some fresh bread rolls. He refused to shop at the only other store in town - the shop that charged for air.
"Air! How the fuck can you charge for air!" He was referring to the main town store's policy of making beach users pay $2 to pump up their 4WD's tyres. It was the deluge of summer holiday folk, sloping in with sloppy tyres after hours or days on the white sandy beaches, that made air a commodity. They also charged with a monopoly-minded manner for beer, meat, vegetables and two minute noodles.

We got down to the bar, the ute filled with beer, food, camera film and dogs. Blunty braked on an expanse of hard white sand. He pulled a bong from behind the driver's seat. I opened my door and the onshore winds made a mess of his session. Bush green blew straight past my face.
"Sarah. Shut that door hey?"
He's perpetually polite. A true Blunty Brother. Big suck. Stashed the bong.

We called the dogs in and started the drive through the bush. Blunty's driving resembled a sideshow dodgems adventure through peppermints and wild, black sand bush tracks.  This is the Fitzgerald; country originally only traversed by knowledgeable fishermen and the Old People. Blunty's four wheel drive sounded like a Sherman tank as it chugged through the gears. The dogs grabbed at flying branches with their teeth.

 We passed a few other four wheel drives towing camper trailers, before we left the sand hills and pulled in to the hard packed bar of another inlet. "This is the Gordon," he told me. "We go fishing here sometimes. Mullet, mostly."

Blunty and I spent the next five hours visiting fishing shacks; some of them private; most of them commercial fishing shacks under government leaseholds. On each beach, at the end of a maze of treacherous four wheel drive tracks, there was usually a shack. And this shack often looked over the annual migration of whales. Whales lay all over the bays in lazy, reefy flocks with little respect for leaseholds or land ownership.

"People come out here and build a private shack. They don't pay any lease fees and they lock them up so no one else can use them. They'll all get knocked down one day when the council chucks the shits and then all the old salmon fishing shacks will get knocked down too."

We stopped for lunch at the Whalebone Beach shack, near the stone walled well that Matthew Flinders dug in 1802.
"Follow the yellow brick road," Blunty led me from the shack, up the sand dune to the top of the hill. Some soul had set bright yellow pavers into the track. He sat down upon a whalebone throne and then stood up, shuffled his thongs.
"Sit. Try it out."
I sat on the bleached ivory. I could see the East and the West Barrens; a dark necklace of mountains looking like they had forced their way out of the earth just yesterday. Blue sky - jagged mountain range -  a chalk white beach - the clearest turquoise waters - the deeper blue of the weed banks - all this in a perfect curve that went on for miles and miles.

"Every place is different, hey? It's like there is a different reason for being in each one."

On our way back down the yellow brick path, Blunty pointed out the whale skulls lying where they'd been dragged up by tractors and he showed me the succulent gardens. He stopped by a profusion of cotyledons growing by the rainwater tank. "They had amazing flowers a month ago. Bright orange and yellow."
At this point, I realised that Blunty had spent a bit of time here.
"Yeah, I stay here when I go squidding, for days or weeks if the squid are any good. They like it on that ribbon weed. A few weeks ago, there musta been thirty or forty whales outside my front door, every day. There was an old bloke here too, staying in the shed. He was a bit weird at first. He had depression or something. The doctor wouldn't give him any drugs. Just told him to come and camp here for two weeks. Bloke wasn't too happy when I turned up but he got used to me. No choice."

It was about thirty degrees and lunchtime. Blunty poured some water into honey pails for the thirsty dogs. "I like to work in all different places. Come out here squidding, then go to Pallinup or Wilsons for Bream, then to Doubtful Island sharking ... crabbing at Oyster Harbour ... Nails, he just goes to Wilsons every night. Goes to work in Wilsons. He doesn't do anything else."
"Where do you catch shark?"
"Oh ... Muttonbird, Haul Off Rock, Groper Bluff, Waychinicup, Cheynes, Bremer, Torbay ... everywhere, everywhere."

He opened up the shack. Someone had recently swept the floors and left a 'thanks for letting us stay' note and some candles on the wood stove. Two ancient kero fridges stood side by side. Every shack has one of those fridges. They are so heavy, they must have been here for decades and are not going anywhere else soon. I can just see the split windscreen Blitz trucks from the war, grinding through the Australian bush in the 1940s; carrying whole families, building materials, nets, boats, tractors and those bloody indestructible fridges to the salmon camps.

Blunty took the makings of lunch from his esky and laid it out over the plywood table. Sliced cheese, a whole cooked chicken, tinned beetroot, lettuce, butter, salt and pepper. Fresh bread rolls. A bottle of chilled lemon cordial. All this from a single man who has been camping at Miller's Point for the last month.
He felt protective over this particular shack. Someone had forced the lock to the master bedroom and even though no damage was done, "it just annoys the crap outta me. Why don't they respect this place?"

Six shacks and three swims later, we rolled back into the fishing camp at Pallinup. Crusted with salt and sun, we'd dug ourselves out of being bogged on one beach, and collected bags of rubbish from a dozen others. The dogs were too exhausted to play with each other. They flopped down under a tree and just managed to sweep the flies off their bodies with their tails.

I felt much the same but had to get changed out of my crusty clothing and wrestle the fly over my tent. I was told there would be rain.

The smoky horizon that Blunty had commented on during the afternoon began to blow over the inlet. He was spot on, hours ago. A wild fire burning to the south. The wind changed and turned fast around to the sou-west. Suddenly the whole sky was orange and a fierce, gusting gale whipped up the olive waters.

At five minutes to five, it was time to set the nets. Grievous drove into the camp, boat clanking on the trailer behind his ute across the pot holed track, his stereo blasting out The Police. Every Breath You Take.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Grievous and the Blunty Boys

Nails is always smiling. He unmeshes fish with bare hands.
"Nah, I only ever wore gloves at the beginning of the season when the bream were wearing my hands out."
He has a careless, gappy smile, flattened nose and the feet of a Hobbit. His face appears to still be growing, broader and jowlier, chunkier with every smile.

When I first got into the camp and met Nails, I thought he was another deckie staying to help out Blunty. He stumped out of the dusty caravan, his face opened up to my arrival. His gentle innocence sidesteps the usual combination of bombast and furtiveness of most fishermen I know.
"Doesn't say much, does he?" Says Old Salt.

I didn't realise the two fishermen were twins. "Like chalk and cheese we are," said Blunty. "Nails fishes barehanded and I wear gloves. He never wear sunnies or a hat or a jacket. Leaves all the knots in the mesh too ...'Oh, thought you'd gettem out for me' he tells me! Bastard to set the next time. Twigs and shit in the nets. Knots and shit."
Blunty must have been a stripling when he was young. Now he has a Bombers tattoo on his calf, sand dune thongs on his feet and a buzz cut all over his bullet head. He's been fishing professionally since he was fourteen, alongside his brother, his Dad and his Grandad. He talks machine-gun style - no room for interjections or pauses- or else he withdraws into a head-bent quietness. Neither state is easy to talk through.

Blunty is out setting bream nets, four and a half inch mesh. He is framed by the cliffs at Pallinup, glowed ochre by the setting sun. He's wearing khaki waders over his board shorts. The net rolls out of its nest on deck, coils into the golden/olive wake left by the dinghy.

He grabs the tiller to straighten out the boat. The wind keeps blowing it off the course he chose. "Listen how quiet that motor is. Good poaching motor this one ... if I was that way inclined ... So quiet. Four stroke, just purrs along. Lead core rope on the net too, y'know? No bits of lead wrap-around getting caught up or clankin' over the gunwale. No stinkin' two stroke clunkin'. Net goes out nice and quiet."

There are three commercial fishers working the inlet this year and they take it in turns to net the rivermouth. It's the most lucrative set; a lot of fish swim down the river and into the inlet at night. Tonight Nails has the rivermouth. Tomorrow night it is Grievous' turn. He only turns up when he's got the rivermouth.
"He'll be here tomorrow at ..." Blunty looks at his watch "... five to five. That's what time he's allowed to set. Then he'll turn around and drive the hundred and fifty back to Albany, boat and all. Then he'll rock up here at two-thirty the next morning to pick up. Fucking nuts. Thought he was chucking the shits the first time he did that. But then Nails said he'd gone back into town to check his leathery pots. Works all night. Works all day. Must be hungry."

Blunty sets three lots of net. The four inch mesh goes across another channel, where the mullet come out and then another one out in the middle of the inlet. Then he motors back against the chop, to the camp. Nails is already there, piling up the fire with mallee roots. The jolly roger flag flaps above the caravan, in the hot nor' westerly.                                         

Random Acts of Happiness

How is it, when the chief sources of human unhappiness, of misery and wretchedness, have largely been removed from our lives … that happiness still eludes so many of us? … What is it in us, or in the world we have created, that continues to hold us back?

In the new edition of Quarterly Essay, David Malouf examines the condition of happiness in the modern world by returning to the wisdom of the classics. He writes of finding happiness in a most unlikely places.

I'm slightly unhappy about being unable to change this font out of italics. I'm also feeling a bit stir crazy today and would like to get the hell outta town, do a road trip to the Kundip shack, remove myself from being on call to grizzled old fishermen and other obligations. However I don't have the cash for fuel. This makes me (momentarily) unhappy, but not cripplingly so.

Speaking however of finding happiness in the most unlikely of places, my moments of true happiness, stillness and existential joy arrive when feeding animals, especially chickens. Standing in the chookpen and throwing wheat over the dirt to busily clucking chickens always makes me the happiest girl in the world.
When I mentioned this to my sister, whose profession is mechanics, she said: "Oh yes, I get that. My moments of true happiness come to me when I'm driving around in the bush, hunting for Valiant wrecks to rat parts from."

When do your random moments of pure, unthinking happiness arrive unbidden?  (I'll be out the back, feeding the chooks.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Boat Sheds

I've removed my (valid but unecessary) rant, replaced it with soothing pictures of interesting things to do with old wooden boats.
(Images courtesy of the Shetland Museum Archives)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Chop Chop

Wooden chopping boards are full of stories.
Today I'm cutting tomatoes into eighths and feeding the pieces to my enamelled stock pot with olive oil, garlic and onions. It happens every year when the over-ripe tomatoes are getting sold as 'sauce toms'. (I always delude myself into thinking I'm making sauce for the rest of the year, when in reality, it is so yummy it lasts, oh, two weeks, at best. Curries, pizza, pasta and cheese on toast. Gone.)

I'm using my favourite, sharpest knife. I'm cutting tomatoes on my favourite board - sheoak, silky-grained and gorgeous. I bought it from the wood carver's exhibition. Before I acquired this one, I had a solid block of jarrah, bevelled edges, sanded and oiled. This is where the story really begins. Stay with me here. Before the jarrah chopping board, when my daughter was a baby, I used a piece of pine that had once served as a base for a sculpture of my naked self in an exhibition ... but that is another tale.

I was in the galley kitchen of a rented weatherboard house by the beach; the kind that inland farmers bought for a song in the sixties for their summer holidays and are now selling for a million bucks. I was chopping onions for a feast with my lover, with no idea that I would conceive a child within the next few weeks.

The argument came out of nowhere.
"Caught up with someone who's just been to Tibet and India ..." (he listed recounted Eastern spiritual connections blah blah) " ... and they said they'd like that bit of jarrah I got, for a chopping board. They said how much they liked the jarrah. I told them they could have it."
Me, chopping with my favourite, sharpest knife. "Who?"
Brain goes POP.
"Her? You are giving all your beautiful wood to her?"
It was for good reason, in that galley kitchen, in the little weatherboard house, chopping onions on a crappy piece of pine, that my head and my heart exploded. (Why don't you love me enough?) I got quite hysterical. I started shouting. Perhaps I was even shrill, dammit. The teenage surfies who were sharing the house with us stopped their chatter in the living room. I heard their quietening beneath my quickening.

To his credit, he took the knife from me and dragged me into the bedroom. I kept shouting. He bit me.
(He bit me.) He bit me.
The next morning I woke up with him holding me. I looked at him and he laughed. My eyes were quite destroyed from crying all night and I had a perfect crescent of teeth marks around each side of my nose.

We survived that; but not the tsunami of family deaths, the lack of emotional intelligence, the bikies or my warrior response to my curtailed freedom.
Weeks after the breakup, he smashed the drivers' side window into my face with his helmet as I was trying to back out of the drive.
The next day, I opened the door to him and he handed me a jarrah chopping board, bevelled edges, sanded and oiled. No apology. Just a chopping board.

It's funny. I never thought about how long he'd kept that piece of jarrah, or that he'd even kept it at all, until today whilst chopping tomatoes. I think it's lying out in the garden somewhere now.

In Residence

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Seining for Sea Mullet


              Sea mullet at this Sunday's Boatshed Markets!

Indigo's Last Hurrah

The very last volume of indigo journal arrived in my letterbox the other day. It is a sad day, yes. Managing editor Donna Ward and West Australian writers have consistently trumpeted the virtues of this little lit journal as being a chrysalis for emerging writers. Indigo certainly has helped me along. Robert Drewe selected one of my stories from indigo and published it in Best Australian Essays 2010, so there is a nice homespun success story for you.
Anyway ... this last issue has my mate Shark's story in it! (That's Mark Roy of the nerve fame) It's a gorgeous memoir and another wonderful edition of indigo. Do yerself a favour, as Molly would say.

Indigo is having a Last Hurrah to launch the final edition at the Sunken Gardens, University of Western Australia, this Saturday the 5th at 8 pm. John Kinsella, Robert Drewe, Mark Tredennick and lots of other writerly sorts will be there.

Live and Let Die: Bluff Knoll

The truck crawled up the mountain road towards the stolid face of Bluff Knoll, rocking to the strains of  McCartney's 'Live and Let Die'. Wow. Even the soundtrack is BIG. We got to the carpark, where people stood in exhausted, sweaty cliques. They barely had the energy to say hello after the climb.

But in the shelter facing the clouds rolling off the mountain sat a happy, talkative man with a can of VB and a book. "I live across the road," he explained. "I come here every day, just to sit and read."
"They haven't found that bloke yet, have they?"
"Nope.Someone else got stuck up there yesterday. They got helicopters looking for him." He laughed. "Turned out he was fine! Just late. Someone will give him a bit of a talking to, I reckon."
I looked at his book, the one he'd propped over his beer to keep out the flies.
'Live and Let Die' by Ian Fleming.